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'Django Unchained': Why Spike Lee Refuses to See It, More Reviews UPDATED

by Anne Thompson
December 26, 2012 7:16 PM
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'Django Unchained'
'Django Unchained'

Richard Corliss, Time

As in so many Tarantino films, the featured players, especially the villains, get the juiciest roles. Jackson, sprung to stardom in Pulp Fiction, is creepy-conniving terrific as a slave wielding sick power over his kind. DiCaprio, whom Tarantino had first considered for the role eventually taken by Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, takes several pages from the Johnny Depp fop book as the Candie man. Flashing his yellow teeth and waving his cigarette holder like the baton of a conductor leading the Ninth Circle of Hell Symphony Orchestra, DiCaprio is a jaunty, smiling Satan — and the actor’s first role in years where he seems to be enjoying himself. He, Waltz and Jackson are surrounded by a passel of veteran tough guys from the movies the director loved in his video days (Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Michael Parks, Robert Carradine, M.C. Gainey, Tom Wopat), plus Jonah Hill in that incongruous, endless jape about the bag-masks, and QT himself in two small roles.

Peter Debruge, Variety

The "D" is silent, though the name of "Django Unchained's" eponymous gunslinger sounds like a retaliatory whip across the face of white slaveholders, offering an immensely satisfying taste of antebellum empowerment packaged as spaghetti-Western homage. Christened after a coffin-toting Sergio Corbucci character who metes out bloody justice below the Mason-Dixon line, Django joins a too-short list of slaves-turned-heroes in American cinema, as this zeitgeist-shaping romp cleverly upgrades the mysterious Man in Black archetype to a formidable Black Man. Once again, Quentin Tarantino rides to the Weinsteins' rescue, delivering a bloody hilarious (and hilariously bloody) Christmas counter-programmer, which Sony will unleash abroad.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

The anecdotal, odyssey-like structure of this long, talky saga could be considered indulgent, but Tarantino injects the weighty material with so many jocular, startling and unexpected touches that it’s constantly stimulating. A stellar cast and strong action and comedy elements will attract a good-sized audience internationally, though distaste for the subject matter and the irreverent take on a tragic subject might make some prospective viewers hesitate.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Django Unchained is literally all over the place. It twists and turns over an unbridled two hours and 45 minutes, giving history (and your stamina) a serious pounding. It limps, sputters and repeats itself. It explodes with violence and talk, talk, talk. Tarantino's characters would be lost in the Twitterverse – there's no end to his tasty dialogue. Not that you'll care. You'll be having too much fun. Django Unchained is an exhilarating rush, outrageously entertaining and, hell, just plain outrageous.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

The most recognizable elements of Tarantino’s style are all on full, florid display: the self-conscious talk-talk-talk interrupted by spasms of graphic cruelty and gore; the poppy color and visual wit (Schultz’s carriage is topped by a tooth on a spring that bounces back and forth like a child’s toy); the nods and winks at grindhouse schlock gone by. “Django Unchained” might raise questions about whether Tarantino is trading in the very brand of voyeuristic exploitation he’s critiquing…


  • sergio | December 27, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    Remember when there used to be a time when you couldn't wait for a new Spike Lee film (or "joint" as he likes to call them) He was the cutting edge director. What would he come up with next? Jungle Fever? Do the Right Thing? Mo' Better Blues? Malcolm X? Well that was 20 years ago. And who gets the sort of vibe today whenever they have new film coming out? Tarantino. Are we seeing some jealousy for the most part here? Spike had a great opportunity recently to make a truly great film about black history and that was called Miracle at St. Anna....YIKES!

  • Brian | December 27, 2012 1:42 PMReply

    I saw this with a large black audience on Christmas Day and they were very attuned to what was going on throughout the film and gave it a very enthusiastic reaction. I imagine, though, that there were very few in this crowd who'd be following Spike Lee on Twitter. Also, Black scholar Henry Louis Gates interviewed Tarantino on The Root website and it's full of great insights--but it's full of spoilers so you might want to wait till you've seen the movie.

  • Brian | December 27, 2012 3:53 PM

    P.S. Anne links to the Gates podcast and all three parts of the interview in her "Hackford Grills Tarantino" entry.

  • Hillary Louise Johnson | December 26, 2012 10:59 PMReply

    It saddens me that Spike Lee would go on the record as refusing to see the movie. For a filmmaker to choose publicly, for ethical reasons, not to see a movie he will inevitably be asked about amounts to choosing to have an uninformed opinion. That's not an ethical position, in terms of art.

  • MDL | December 26, 2012 9:06 PMReply

    I though Django Unchained was good fun. I have no problem with QT's revisionist fantasy history. In Inglourious Basterds he took it to the Nazi's and here he does the same to plantation owners. I'm not sure why that is controversial in the least bit. He is killing the bad guys. And he does it with cinematic style and a good soundtrack. I'm pretty sure most people understand that. He in no way set out to make a heartfelt drama. It seems you and Carrie wanted that, which is a tad odd considering that was not Tarantino's intentions.

  • Tim | December 27, 2012 10:34 AM

    I think the problem is the moral simplicity. "killing the bad guys." it wasn't all that long ago that slavery ended in America (many elements of it didn't end until the civil rights era) and the current state of our society has been highly shaped by the legacy of that institution. a lot of the people who are paying to see this movie continue to benefit, in varying degrees, from that legacy. people always like to think of themselves as being on the just and victorious side of history, but the truth is a lot more complicated and uncomfortable. I think part of Spike's problem is that Tarantino's film doesn't seem to acknowledge that. I won't know whether I agree with him until I see the film, but I'm certainly hesitant and suspicious.

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